Financial stress, employment uncertainty and the tendency to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs are at the heart of the high rates of mental illness in the music industry.

About 25 per cent of artists and 50 per cent of crew in the Australian music industry have attempted or considered suicide.

Those horrific statistics revealed by the first comprehensive study of mental health of artists and crew, coupled with findings they are five times more likely to suffer depression, jerked the entertainment community into action.

Support Act, originally established as a benevolent fund for industry workers in financial difficulties, added a 24/7 wellbeing hotline to address the mental health crisis.

Veteran roadies set up Crew Care to encourage the workers most at risk and less likely to seek help to address their mental illness.

Singer and Songwriter Nathan Cavaleri has battled his own demons. Picture: Tim Hunter.
Singer and Songwriter Nathan Cavaleri has battled his own demons. Picture: Tim Hunter.

The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown of live entertainment has exacerbated the crisis with Support Act and Crew Care advocates deeply concerned it will get even worse if live entertainment cannot get back to full capacity by early 2021 as government packages are scaled back.

News Corp Australia this week launches Mental Health 360, bringing together mental health experts and those touched by it first-hand. Panel experts include former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, Sydney University's Professor Ian Hickie, child psychiatrist Professor Jon Jureidini, Chris Turton who lost his son Dan to suicide, Kids Helpline CEO Tracy Adams and country music star and Rural Advisory Mental Health Program ambassador Melinda Schneider.

Together with senior journalists Sue Dunlevy, Ben Pike, Natasha Bita and Kathy McCabe, Mental Health 360 dissects what is arguably the biggest issue impacting Australians.

"If we don't see leadership, if we don't see measures implemented that affect all workers, we are going to see an industry that never recovers and we're going to see a lot of funerals coming up," Crew Care's Howard Freeman told Mental Health 360.

The roadies organisation was one of the first to roll out a new Mental Health First Aid program this year as COVID-19 put everyone in the live industry out of work.

Dozens of artists and managers have also taken the certificate course which trains people to assist those suffering mental illness and encourage them to seek professional help for depression and anxiety.

Support Act CEO Clive Miller said the organisation's Wellbeing hotline has had a 50 per cent increase in calls during the shutdown but more work was needed to reduce the stigma around mental illness and seeking help.

Musician Tim Rogers with roadies Kath Millar, John Barker and Howard Freeman. Picture: Aaron Francis
Musician Tim Rogers with roadies Kath Millar, John Barker and Howard Freeman. Picture: Aaron Francis

"It is about trying to destigmatise the whole conversation, we should be able to talk and think about dealing with our mental health in the same way that we do our physical health," he said.

"Most people will attend to physical ailments pretty quickly and not think twice. We've got to get to that same point with people also looking after their mental health."

Support Act also recently unveiled the Mental Health Advocates Program, with those who have battled illness including guitar prodigy Nathan Cavaleri, Teskey Brothers member Brendon Love, country music star Fanny Lumsden and respected tour director Sahara Herald signing on to share their experiences and highlight where people can get help.

Tour director for Australian live music promotion company Frontier Touring Sahara Herald. Picture: David Geraghty
Tour director for Australian live music promotion company Frontier Touring Sahara Herald. Picture: David Geraghty

Cavaleri, who rose to fame in the 1990s as a gifted guitarist as he publicly battled childhood leukaemia, quit music for several years as depression and anxiety forced him off the stage.

He released Demons, his first album in over two decades, in August, with the single Before You Check Out inspired by his own mental health story and the tragic loss of his cousin to suicide.

"I strongly identified with what he went through and wished I had reached out to him. Having battled my own demons, I wondered whether my experience would have helped," Cavaleri, who is back doing gigs, said.

"I contemplated what I'd share if time could show mercy. I would share how our thoughts and beliefs colourise our experience and skew our perception of the world, giving us a false sense of reality - a notion that helped me to expose the root of many of my physical and mental health issues that were mistakenly believed to be out of my control."

Cavaleri playing the guitar in 1996.
Cavaleri playing the guitar in 1996.

 

Cavaleri quit music for several years as depression and anxiety forced him off the stage. Picture: Tim Hunter.
Cavaleri quit music for several years as depression and anxiety forced him off the stage. Picture: Tim Hunter.

Miller said the Support Act advocate and first aid programs were also designed to help artists navigate the overwhelming reaction of fans to their raw and revealing songs about their own struggles with anxiety and depression.

"People are putting themselves on the line sort of artistically and emotionally all the time, that's what they do," he said.

"They're lucky, I suppose, if what they put out there is well received and successful and also helps themselves.

"But for so many people that isn't always the case and there's a high level of risk that comes with that.

"When you think how risk averse most of us are, we don't have to put ourselves out there and artists are exposed, they're emotionally exposed, and they've got to deal with that. And they're not getting support for that."

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Originally published as 'Wish I reached out': Aussie music star tells of suicide heartbreak


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